The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 11

June’s Treat

Dinner began in silence; the women facing one another, and the men.

In silence the soup was finished — excellent, if a little thick; and fish was brought. In silence it was handed.

Bosinney ventured: “It’s the first spring day.”

Irene echoed softly: “Yes — the first spring day.”

“Spring!” said June: “there isn’t a breath of air!” No one replied.

The fish was taken away, a fine fresh sole from Dover. And Bilson brought champagne, a bottle swathed around the neck with white. . . .

Soames said: “You’ll find it dry.”

Cutlets were handed, each pink-frilled about the legs. They were refused by June, and silence fell.

Soames said: “You’d better take a cutlet, June; there’s nothing coming.”

But June again refused, so they were borne away. And then Irene asked: “Phil, have you heard my blackbird?”

Bosinney answered: “Rather — he’s got a hunting-song. As I came round I heard him in the Square.”

“He’s such a darling!”

“Salad, sir?” Spring chicken was removed.

But Soames was speaking: “The asparagus is very poor. Bosinney, glass of sherry with your sweet? June, you’re drinking nothing!”

June said: “You know I never do. Wine’s such horrid stuff!”

An apple charlotte came upon a silver dish, and smilingly Irene said: “The azaleas are so wonderful this year!”

To this Bosinney murmured: “Wonderful! The scent’s extraordinary!”

June said: “How can you like the scent? Sugar, please, Bilson.”

Sugar was handed her, and Soames remarked: “This charlottes good!”

The charlotte was removed. Long silence followed. Irene, beckoning, said: “Take out the azalea, Bilson. Miss June can’t bear the scent.”

“No; let it stay,” said June.

Olives from France, with Russian caviare, were placed on little plates. And Soames remarked: “Why can’t we have the Spanish?” But no one answered.

The olives were removed. Lifting her tumbler June demanded: “Give me some water, please.” Water was given her. A silver tray was brought, with German plums. There was a lengthy pause. In perfect harmony all were eating them.

Bosinney counted up the stones: “This year — next year — some time.”

Irene finished softly: “Never! There was such a glorious sunset. The sky’s all ruby still — so beautiful!”

He answered: “Underneath the dark.”

Their eyes had met, and June cried scornfully: “A London sunset!”

Egyptian cigarettes were handed in a silver box. Soames, taking one, remarked: “What time’s your play begin?”

No one replied, and Turkish coffee followed in enamelled cups.

Irene, smiling quietly, said: “If only. . . . ”

“Only what?” said June.

“If only it could always be the spring!”

Brandy was handed; it was pale and old.

Soames said: “Bosinney, better take some brandy.”

Bosinney took a glass; they all arose.

“You want a cab?” asked Soames.

June answered: “No! My cloaks please, Bilson.” Her cloak was brought.

Irene, from the window, murmured: “Such a lovely night! The stars are coming out!”

Soames added: “Well, I hope you’ll both enjoy yourselves.”

From the door June answered: “Thanks. Come, Phil.”

Bosinney cried: “I’m coming.”

Soames smiled a sneering smile, and said: “I wish you luck!”

And at the door Irene watched them go.

Bosinney called: “Good night!”

“Good night!” she answered softly. . . .

June made her lover take her on the top of a ‘bus, saying she wanted air, and there sat silent, with her face to the breeze.

The driver turned once or twice, with the intention of venturing a remark, but thought better of it. They were a lively couple! The spring had got into his blood, too; he felt the need for letting steam escape, and clucked his tongue, flourishing his whip, wheeling his horses, and even they, poor things, had smelled the spring, and for a brief half-hour spurned the pavement with happy hoofs.

The whole town was alive; the boughs, curled upward with their decking of young leaves, awaited some gift the breeze could bring. New-lighted lamps were gaining mastery, and the faces of the crowd showed pale under that glare, while on high the great white clouds slid swiftly, softly, over the purple sky.

Men in, evening dress had thrown back overcoats, stepping jauntily up the steps of Clubs; working folk loitered; and women — those women who at that time of night are solitary — solitary and moving eastward in a stream — swung slowly along, with expectation in their gait, dreaming of good wine and a good supper, or — for an unwonted minute, of kisses given for love.

Those countless figures, going their ways under the lamps and the moving-sky, had one and all received some restless blessing from the stir of spring. And one and all, like those clubmen with their opened coats, had shed something of caste, and creed, and custom, and by the cock of their hats, the pace of their walk, their laughter, or their silence, revealed their common kinship under the passionate heavens.

Bosinney and June entered the theatre in silence, and mounted to their seats in the upper boxes. The piece had just begun, and the half-darkened house, with its rows of creatures peering all one way, resembled a great garden of flowers turning their faces to the sun.

June had never before been in the upper boxes. From the age of fifteen she had habitually accompanied her grandfather to the stalls, and not common stalls, but the best seats in the house, towards the centre of the third row, booked by old Jolyon, at Grogan and Boyne’s, on his way home from the City, long before the day; carried in his overcoat pocket, together with his cigar-case and his old kid gloves, and handed to June to keep till the appointed night. And in those stalls — an erect old figure with a serene white head, a little figure, strenuous and eager, with a red-gold head — they would sit through every kind of play, and on the way home old Jolyon would say of the principal actor: “Oh, he’s a poor stick! You should have seen little Bobson!”

She had looked forward to this evening with keen delight; it was stolen, chaperone-less, undreamed of at Stanhope Gate, where she was supposed to be at Soames’. She had expected reward for her subterfuge, planned for her lover’s sake; she had expected it to break up the thick, chilly cloud, and make the relations between them which of late had been so puzzling, so tormenting — sunny and simple again as they had been before the winter. She had come with the intention of saying something definite; and she looked at the stage with a furrow between her brows, seeing nothing, her hands squeezed together in her lap. A swarm of jealous suspicions stung and stung her.

If Bosinney was conscious of her trouble he made no sign.

The curtain dropped. The first act had come to an end.

“It’s awfully hot here!” said the girl; “I should like to go out.”

She was very white, and she knew — for with her nerves thus sharpened she saw everything — that he was both uneasy and compunctious.

At the back of the theatre an open balcony hung over the street; she took possession of this, and stood leaning there without a word, waiting for him to begin.

At last she could bear it no longer.

“I want to say something to you, Phil,” she said.

“Yes?”

The defensive tone of his voice brought the colour flying to her cheek, the words flying to her lips: “You don’t give me a chance to be nice to you; you haven’t for ages now!”

Bosinney stared down at the street. He made no answer. . . .

June cried passionately: “You know I want to do everything for you — that I want to be everything to you. . . . ”

A hum rose from the street, and, piercing it with a sharp ‘ping,’ the bell sounded for the raising of the curtain. June did not stir. A desperate struggle was going on within her. Should she put everything to the proof? Should she challenge directly that influence, that attraction which was driving him away from her? It was her nature to challenge, and she said: “Phil, take me to see the house on Sunday!”

With a smile quivering and breaking on her lips, and trying, how hard, not to show that she was watching, she searched his face, saw it waver and hesitate, saw a troubled line come between his brows, the blood rush into his face. He answered: “Not Sunday, dear; some other day!”

“Why not Sunday? I shouldn’t be in the way on Sunday.”

He made an evident effort, and said: “I have an engagement.”

“You are going to take. . . . ”

His eyes grew angry; he shrugged his shoulders, and answered: “An engagement that will prevent my taking you to see the house!”

June bit her lip till the blood came, and walked back to her seat without another word, but she could not help the tears of rage rolling down her face. The house had been mercifully darkened for a crisis, and no one could see her trouble.

Yet in this world of Forsytes let no man think himself immune from observation.

In the third row behind, Euphemia, Nicholas’s youngest daughter, with her married-sister, Mrs. Tweetyman, were watching.

They reported at Timothy’s, how they had seen June and her fiance at the theatre.

“In the stalls?” “No, not in the. . . . ” “Oh! in the dress circle, of course. That seemed to be quite fashionable nowadays with young people!”

Well — not exactly. In the. . . . Anyway, that engagement wouldn’t last long. They had never seen anyone look so thunder and lightningy as that little June! With tears of enjoyment in their eyes, they related how she had kicked a man’s hat as she returned to her seat in the middle of an act, and how the man had looked. Euphemia had a noted, silent laugh, terminating most disappointingly in squeaks; and when Mrs. Small, holding up her hands, said: “My dear! Kicked a ha-at?” she let out such a number of these that she had to be recovered with smelling-salts. As she went away she said to Mrs. Tweetyman:

“Kicked a — ha-at! Oh! I shall die.”

For ‘that little June’ this evening, that was to have been ‘her treat,’ was the most miserable she had ever spent. God knows she tried to stifle her pride, her suspicion, her jealousy!

She parted from Bosinney at old Jolyon’s door without breaking down; the feeling that her lover must be conquered was strong enough to sustain her till his retiring footsteps brought home the true extent of her wretchedness.

The noiseless ‘Sankey’ let her in. She would have slipped up to her own room, but old Jolyon, who had heard her entrance, was in the dining-room doorway.

“Come in and have your milk,” he said. “It’s been kept hot for you. You’re very late. Where have you been?”

June stood at the fireplace, with a foot on the fender and an arm on the mantelpiece, as her grandfather had done when he came in that night of the opera. She was too near a breakdown to care what she told him.

“We dined at Soames’s.”

“H’m! the man of property! His wife there and Bosinney?”

“Yes.”

Old Jolyon’s glance was fixed on her with the penetrating gaze from which it was difficult to hide; but she was not looking at him, and when she turned her face, he dropped his scrutiny at once. He had seen enough, and too much. He bent down to lift the cup of milk for her from the hearth, and, turning away, grumbled: “You oughtn’t to stay out so late; it makes you fit for nothing.”

He was invisible now behind his paper, which he turned with a vicious crackle; but when June came up to kiss him, he said: “Good-night, my darling,” in a tone so tremulous and unexpected, that it was all the girl could do to get out of the room without breaking into the fit of sobbing which lasted her well on into the night.

When the door was closed, old Jolyon dropped his paper, and stared long and anxiously in front of him.

‘The beggar!’ he thought. ‘I always knew she’d have trouble with him!’

Uneasy doubts and suspicions, the more poignant that he felt himself powerless to check or control the march of events, came crowding upon him.

Was the fellow going to jilt her? He longed to go and say to him: “Look here, you sir! Are you going to jilt my grand-daughter?” But how could he? Knowing little or nothing, he was yet certain, with his unerring astuteness, that there was something going on. He suspected Bosinney of being too much at Montpellier Square.

‘This fellow,’ he thought, ‘may not be a scamp; his face is not a bad one, but he’s a queer fish. I don’t know what to make of him. I shall never know what to make of him! They tell me he works like a nigger, but I see no good coming of it. He’s unpractical, he has no method. When he comes here, he sits as glum as a monkey. If I ask him what wine he’ll have, he says: “Thanks, any wine.” If I offer him a cigar, he smokes it as if it were a twopenny German thing. I never see him looking at June as he ought to look at her; and yet, he’s not after her money. If she were to make a sign, he’d be off his bargain to-morrow. But she won’t — not she! She’ll stick to him! She’s as obstinate as fate — She’ll never let go!’

Sighing deeply, he turned the paper; in its columns, perchance he might find consolation.

And upstairs in her room June sat at her open window, where the spring wind came, after its revel across the Park, to cool her hot cheeks and burn her heart.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37